The Meaning of Life of Pi


A friend of mine posted this on Facebook: “Saw the movie, “Life of Pi” last night.  What was that all about?!”  In other words what is the meaning of Life of Pi?

So here is my movie review and commentary from a theological standpoint–since the movie is essentially about that.  This is visually a very beautiful and stunning film–and I certainly recommend it for this reason.  The story telling is also great, until you get to the confusing if not unsettled conclusion which highlights the problem with our culture of relativism–the idea that all beliefs, worldviews are a matter of preference and are equal and valid.

(Spoiler alert–sort of… this may or may not spoil the experience of the film if you haven’t seen it).  Certainly, its conclusion with it’s dual stories, or two interpretations leaves us guessing and a bit confused.  Perhaps it’s because the protagonist of our story, Pi, (and probably the author Yann Martel) is confused by remaining open to all interpretations of god and life as being valid and true. Pi experienced a “fantasy” which became the soothing “reality” to cover up for his otherwise horrible ordeal.   Is Martel trying to say all beliefs and paths to God and interpretations of events, even “fantasies” are valid as they help us to survive?

At the conclusion of the movie, Pi asks “which of (his) two stories do you prefer?”  He reasons since one can’t prove which story is true and neither is relevant to the reasons behind the shipwreck (the sufferings of life) the story with the animals is preferred.  Pi says, “and so it goes with God.”  Meaning, people choose a religious world view and truth based on personal preference.  He’s right, people do.  But preference (or familiarity) is not the same as truth.

So because the older Pi is is still unsettled, still open to a plurality of truths and religions, and not seeming to find peace or enlightenment, the movie seems to be somewhat of an affront to Truth, or the notion that there is one truth.  Of course, this is Hollywood, or Bollywood, so that’s to be expected, at least as far as this subject goes.  But when Pi was a young boy exploring religion his father says  “I prefer you start with reason…I prefer you take a stand and believe in one thing. Believing in all religions is like believing nothing at all.”   And I couldn’t agree more.  I wished the movie concluded with this sentiment, but it does not.

And with his two “stories,” where does Pi’s statement “it will make you believe in God” really go?    Was this merely a 227 day delusion with a Bengal Tiger (amongst other things) similar to  how Tom Hank’s character in Cast Away created his “Wilson?”  Was his “fantasy” only about the grace God gave to cover up an otherwise horrible incident and a long-suffering trial?   I’m not sure his personal “cover story” helps me to “believe in God” simply because it was a comforting delusion or coping mechanism to deal with the losses and sufferings of his life.

Pi screams out to God, “I surrender.” “My life is yours.”  “I am your vessel.” But in this story, although God gives him the grace to survive, God doesn’t ultimately provide him the truth he is looking for–or at least, Pi doesn’t grasp it.  In real life, when people surrender so much and sincerely cry out to God, God responds, like in true stories of shipwreck survivors.  One example is WWII Lieutenant Louis Zamperini, who truly found “salvation” (in every sense of the word) purpose and a life mission in Jesus Christ after his amazing life raft ordeal as depicted in the book Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.   That story was also made into a movie of the same title.

Now, I know there are millions of sincere people of different faiths, all around the world.  I believe there is much beauty and truth in all religions.  Certainly it would be helpful to know and experience a measure of different world religions, just so we can understand each other better.  But while there are certainly things in common in these faiths, there are more substantial things that are contradictory.  Not all religions can be completely true.

And when I mean true, I mean objectively true, not subjectively.   God is not a “personal thing” like your favorite ice-cream flavor.  Personally, I think Haagen-Daz Vanilla Swiss Almond is “the truth” of all ice creams.    But no, that doesn’t make sense.  Borrowing Greg Koukl’s analogy, God is not like ice cream but like Insulin. In other words God is objectively true.  He’s not a relative or subjective (internal, personal) truth, He’s an objective (external) truth.  A diabetic can’t use ice cream or any medicine on the shelf to control their diabetes, but Insulin can.

Picking a worldview or religion based on personal preference is like letting your kids do whatever they want.  No, as parents, were constantly correcting our kids because we love them.  We know  they would not make the best decisions on their own. They are required to obey us, not the other way around.  The world embraces relativism–the idea that all ideas and worldviews are valid, in order not to offend each other.  Certainly, we can all “COEXIST” as the bumper sticker goes, but we have to recognize the fallacy of moral and theological relativism.  We need to gently yet firmly talk about truth in a spirit of love.

The author, coming from the land of thousands of gods seems to be confused.  But the true God is not a God of confusion.  The idea of “since one can’t prove which story is true” doesn’t apply to theism.  We can integrate reason and unbiased science into the search of the true God.

Here are some examples:  Only the worldview contained in monotheism and particularly Christianity correspond well to reason and the puzzle of Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny.  Only the bible provides hundreds of verifiable fulfilled prophecies, which are statistically impossible by chance. Only the Son of God, Jesus, His Word, Works and Will, embody the love, forgiveness and truth that can heal our down-spiraling world. Only this God is moving today in miraculous verifiable physical healings. These are just a few ways we can “prove which story is true.”  For those interested, the whole field of Christian or biblical apologetics is devoted to using reason and debate to defend the truth of the bible.

So the God of the Bible is preferable not only because he is a God of love and comfort, but because he is the God of Truth.  Believing in all things is like not believing anything at all.  That will only confuse you, like the conclusion of this movie.   Surrendering, like Pi, is good, but also you need to seek, and cling to the truth.  Don’t let your personal preference, culture, upbringing, bias or even the hypocrisy of “religious” people get in the way.   Choose a worldview, religion, and God that is based on truth.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6


5 thoughts on “The Meaning of Life of Pi

  1. maybelline

    What I got out of it was that in the end both of these stories were true, in Pi’s eyes. Yes, the realistic story did happen, but the Richard Parker story was a representation of what happened that served to “mask” the horrible things that occurred in those 227 days.

    One of the main points that stood out to me was the tiger not giving him a goodbye when it finally left to the jungle. Pi was just sad to see how their relationship basically ended without any goodbye. The tiger. As some of y’all know, IS Pi. It is the one that put him through this mental state and brought the beast in him to make himself survive. But what i also think is that the tiger represented God. Through pi’s faith in God throughout these 227 days at sea, it made him really reevaluate and do things that he thought he’d never do. Basically the impossible. And to see the tiger leave is saddening for pi. It represents both the idea that his savagery has gone away but it also represents how this sacrificial passionate love with God has also gone astray… in a sense I see it as if people only get so close to God when they are in their most hopeless situations and the most they can do is have faith. And it is this will of faith that makes that person survive. When the tiger leaves without turning back its a way of God saying that He’ll never say goodbye. He’s always there when a person needs him most. Its the faith that brought Pi back ashore.

    • BobA Post author

      Some nice insights there, Maybelline! Thanks for that.

      While I think what you point out is true, that God helps us to survive when were in hopeless even fearful situations that can “force” a faith and dependence on God, Pi may be lost, adrift for eternity if he doesn’t, in the end, come to know and depend on the God of Truth. That’s what’s disappointing about the movie for me. After all, being preserved and rescued from a life boat in nothing compared to being preserved and rescued for all eternity.

  2. Doug

    Well done! I enjoyed the post/review. I thought it was interesting that the tiger had a name “Richard Parker”. Also, that RP just walked into the jungle and did not look back. Pi was disappointed. This was significant. The relationship/bond left Pi with an expectation. He recounts how upset he was when the rescuers carried him away, he was grieving over the loss of that relationship. I would need to read the words that he used to describe that scene. Was RP a god figure to Pi?

    • BobA Post author

      Hi Doug. I thought that was significant too. Pi mentioned how life is a series of losses, and for each one, not being able to say goodbye. It’s basically about the suffering and losses of life. But I think this theme of loss, suffering and hardship is merely a backdrop to the bigger theme of meaning, theology or worldview.

      According to the storyline, the tiger was actually Pi, and the other animals represented other people in the boat. We could read into it that “Richard Parker” was Pi’s “fierceness” that helped him survive. So when the ordeal was over, that part of him left. Since RP was a delusion to help him survive, it left him unceremoniously once he was rescued. This was in contrast to the “fantasy” he had about his relationship with the tiger.

      I’m not that familiar with Hinduism, other than that animals are considered divine. Perhaps Pi associated God’s grace and helping presence in the form of a tiger. So, like the idea of Jesus being “in the boat” with us through our storms, perhaps Richard Parker was something that God graciously provided to help him survive both the physical ordeal and the emotional pain he endured at the outset. I’m not sure the God of truth works in delusions, but certainly his presence never leaves us. He’s still available to “Pi” and all of us. We don’t have to wait until He strips everything away from us (again) to see that he’s right here, and for the believers in Christ, living inside our heart.

      • Rubellite💖Fae

        “I’m not that familiar with Hinduism, other than that animals are considered divine.”

        Hello. Hindu here. 🙏 It’s difficult to encompass “what all Hindus believe” because it’s a very large tent, but I think I can clear up a misconception about animals. For every serious Hindu I know all things are divine. In the same way that you say God’s presence never leaves us, for us God’s presence is in all things—immanent and transcendent. Yeshua ben Yosef taught forgiveness as a form of love (which is wonderful, I love that). The Vedas teach nonviolence as a compassionate form of love. So, we do not believe that animals are “above” people or more divine, but that we shouldn’t cause any thing to suffer. That is for the sake of the individual which would suffer, but also because it would be violence against God who is immanent in all things. And, since we are all made by God and connected by God’s immanence, it would also be violence against ourselves. That is what karma really means (not really “what goes around comes around”).

        I’m not sure what you meant by “God of truth works in delusions.” For us all things are of God, by God, for God. Anything which is not God is illusion (though not delusion because that is a “dangerous illusion” and nothing endangers God).

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